Hundreds of fish killed on Newtownabbey river

An investigation is underway after a major fish kill on a stretch of the Three Mile Water river in Newtownabbey.

Monday, 30th August 2021, 5:37 pm

The incident on a lower section of the waterway was reported to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency by a member of the public on Friday afternoon (August 27) and members of local environmental group, the Three Mile Water Conservation and Angling Association, were alerted.

Speaking to the Newtownabbey Times, the group’s chairman David Thompson said: “A number of species have been impacted. Mainly trout at various stages of their life cycle from fry, parr and mature adult fish, including species that are normally tolerant of poorer water quality such as flounder, stickleback and eel, have died - all of which are a vital food source to kingfisher and otter, species that are already particularly uncommon in urban river corridors.

“At this stage the number of dead fish could be in the high hundreds, possibly low thousands, but we’ll not know the exact number until the investigation has been completed. A total of 700 fish died in the fish kill at the end of May (for more on this read here) and this latest incident could set us back at least five or six years, and that’s being optimistic.”
When group members arrived at the river on Friday, officers from the Department were already there and all were confronted by distressing scenes.

Hundreds of fish are estimated to have been killed.

“Most fish were already dead, but there were some fish struggling in the water and it was distressing to see this. They were being suffocated by the lack of oxygen from the pollutant.

“This has been a tough year and a half for many people and just as restrictions were easing and people could start getting back to angling, this incident has wiped out the best of the fish stock. Many of our members are elderly and now, after so many months spent in lockdown, they’ll not be able to get out and take part in their favourite pastime.

“Mental health is a key focus of our club and being able to get out in the fresh air and enjoying the friendship and the natural beauty of the local area are very important. Now this has happened, it’s hard to find any positives.”

Mr Thompson added: “The impacted stretch of river flows from Monkstown to Whiteabbey. Belfast Lough is a specially protected site due to the migratory birds and shellfish beds. It’s unclear as to whether pollution has had any impact on the lough.

An investigation is underway.

“The association wishes to thank the public for reporting these incidents- they are the eyes and ears on the river as always. What we would stress is that they should report these incidents directly to the NIEA’s pollution hotline on 0800 80 70 60 they can be dealt with a lot quicker and be missed if sent to us by social media.

“Unfortunately, pollution incidents are continuing to cause an issue to rivers and waterways across the province. It would be good to have a multi-party approach to tackle the issue.

“We would be happy to work with any party to protect the Three Mile Water and other clubs to see an end to fish kills. These incidents are having such a detrimental financial and societal impact on all of the smaller angling associations across Northern Ireland.”

The Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said that an investigation into the latest incident is ongoing.

In a statement, a DAERA spokesperson said: “Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) are currently investigating a report received from a member of the public indicating that there was water pollution impacting the Three Mile Water River at Whiteabbey.

“The pollution was reported as white odourless surface foaming. NIEA Water Quality Inspectors were deployed to the area to confirm the report and assess the environmental impact. Further to the investigation, a significant number of dead fish were confirmed in the river.

“DAERA Inland Fisheries staff were informed following set procedures and, whilst the full impact on the fishery remains under investigation, a major fish kill has been confirmed.

“The exact cause of the fish kill is unknown at this stage, however, the pollutant involved appears to have contained a significant quantity of a detergent (surfactant) or similar foaming agent.

“This is the second serious water pollution incident impacting the Three Mile Water fishery in the last few months which has caused unnecessary distress to the local angling club who help manage the river on a voluntary basis for the benefit of all those who enjoy the amenity the river provides.

“If anyone has any information they wish to share regarding the source of this discharge, please feel free to contact NIEA in confidence on the incident hotline on 0800 807060.”

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